Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for January, 2007

Ranger Overboard

posted: January 29th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Janie says she saw it all: One moment the ranger leading our group through a red mangrove swamp in canoes in Big Cypress Swamp National Preserve was perfectly upright; and her only mistake may have been that she turned to address the group—causing the canoe to cant.

RANGER OVERBOARD: At that precise moment, bad luck struck in the form of a powerful wind gust that lifted the bow of her canoe and canted it much, much further than her motion had. In short, both Ranger Nereida Ramos and her paddling partner dumped, and were soon standing up to their armpits in the very same swamp water in which we’d seen alligators swimming just moments ago.

“Just bad luck,” said Janie, “and I’m just glad we weren’t moving around when the wind blew.”

But we now had a dilemma, and though Nereida didn’t seem concerned, the thought crossed my mind—and that of others in our group—that just moments ago, we’d passed several alligators. Now, all we wanted was to see the two women back safely in the canoe.

We were closest to the overturned canoe, and so we pulled in next to Nereida; and with the now-swamped canoe upside down and the bow of her canoe on the bow of ours, both Nereida and her companion lifted their canoe’s stern. Water quickly thudded out, and then the two spun the canoe so that it was now once again right-side up. Then it was a matter of stabilizing the canoe so the women could clamor back in, all accomplished with several others in the group. Both women were good sports about the entire incident, and during the procedure Nereida had even shouted out, “Well where’s the photographer now?”

ALLIGATOR INCIDENTS RARE: Apparently the alligators were forgotten, and the fact of the matter is that several rangers I queried said they could remember but one incident in which there had been an alligator attack on a human, and that, interestingly enough, occurred just last year.

The incident happened in Everglades National Park, not Big Cypress, and it occurred in Shark Valley, just a short distance from where we’re camped at Midway Campground. At the time, a young boy and his parents had been riding the tram on the 15-mile long loop and somehow the young boy had slipped—and as I understand the story—had slipped right near an alligator that had been sunning itself.

Immediately the alligator grabbed the boy and began pulling him toward the water’s edge. Apparently the parents beat on the alligator, and, uncharacteristically, the reptile released the boy, who suffered injuries but apparently nothing that would later handicap him.

RED MANGOVE SWAMP: Despite freak accidents swamps really are fascinating places to visit, and during our time here in Big Cypress, we’ve tried to take in all the activities this preserve offers. One such trip was, of course, the canoe paddle through a red mangrove swamp, which everyone continued to enjoy, even after Nereid’s mishap, and which she continued to make almost as interesting as her mishap.

NIGHT HERONS: Nereida understood the flora and fauna and pointed to what she thought was a Black-crowned Night Heron, but was too far away to confirm. The other night heron, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, is one I’ve described in previous entries, and is just one of the many aspects I’ve learned about while engaged in other Big Cypress activities.

SWAMP WALK: Other adventures in Big Cypress area took place for us just two days ago while on another ranger led activity known as the “Swamp Walk.”

Corinne Fenner conducted the program, and despite what many might believe, the walk is one of the park’s more popular activities. The purpose was, in part, to interpret a hammock, and those in attendance included two campground volunteers, an artist, and a retired teacher, among others. What we all apparently shared in common was an interest in adventure and in learning more about Florida’s natural history.

Florida is essentially flat, with a peak elevation of about 345 feet. Just one or two feet can make all the difference in vegetation, and that, in part, is what the ranger’s hike pointed out. Connie said that hammocks are mounds of dry land that support a variety of tropical and temperate life in combinations unique to each.

BROMELIADS: Because of their higher elevation, hammocks host a variety of forms of vegetation such as the cypress tress. In turn cypress trees, and the somewhat watery environment in which they occur, support a variety of unusual plants called epiphytes. This group derives all nourishment from the air and rain water and from little else, and includes a family of bromeliads, one of the colorful plants shown here.

Big Cypress is indeed a diverse park, established essentially to help further protect Everglades National Park. The contiguous preserve was created in 1974, but has become an attraction in itself, certainly easy to understand with rangers willing to wade swamp waters to promote interest.

And now we have a ranger apparently willing to dump her canoe, something we’ll expect to see again when we return, for we suspect it was all just part of the program.

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Gators On My Mind

posted: January 25th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Just north of Everglades National Park, here in Big Cypress National Preserve, alligators are always in the headlines. Two days ago a caretaker at the Visitor Center discovered upon reporting to work that a ten-foot alligator had plopped itself near the door.

ALLIGATOR: Not good for business he apparently concluded, and called in rangers, and together they began the task of moving it. With a long stick to which a loop was attached, they adeptly cinched shut the reptiles mouth. Next, several men further immobilized the beast with the power of their own muscles and then moved it into a trap. Moments later they placed the creature into a canal where it joined dozens of its own kind. Apparently, the gator had not found a way through the barrier fence, but instead had come in from a distant swamp…

A wandering gator, simply searching for water during, this, the dry season.

Events like that always perk up the ears, and then the stories began to flow. Here at Midway Campground, located just a few miles from the Visitor Center, Camp Host Jack Rupert recalls that just last winter, a man made a routine of walking his black Labrador retriever at the fringe of the pond, right where the saw grass and reeds obscure anything that might be lurking nearby. Jack said the campground host cautioned the man over and over, but the camper persisted in allowing his dog to wander off leash near the brush. The man and dog had a pattern the gator apparently recognized, as one day, bang!

ALLIGATOR: Jack said the gator grabbed the 80-pound lab, pulled it into the water, and held it there beneath the surface until it drowned. The man was so traumatized that he loaded his RV and left before rangers could arrive and fill out a case-incident report.

“It was a sad situation,” said Jack, “but everyone had warned the man. He simply didn’t listen. As a result, he gave alligators a bad name.”

Despite the anecdotes most everyone we’ve met here seems to enjoy seeing alligators. However, there’s a segment that apparently doesn’t and doesn’t mind taking matters into their own hands, despite laws. Yesterday as we drove a small dirt road through the swamps of Big Cypress we came to a dead alligator that a ranger later told us had been poached.

VULTURE: We might have bypassed the animal except for the smell associated with putrification—and the presence of the vultures, which perform a vital function keeping the country clean.

Gators have long been of interest to me and, once, Bruce May, a good friend, and I canoed well over 100 miles through the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. The trip was part business, as I had wrangled an assignment from the United States Information Agency to produce a story on the Everglades. And, so, we had flown from our homes in Montana to canoe the Everglades. The story would be syndicated overseas and I wanted to do it right, and so we took our time, absorbing the area’s remarkable history and its natural history—learning much over a ten-day trip about alligators.

We canoed from Everglades City to Flamingo and though the entire area appeared to be gator country, there were days in which we saw everything but these anachronistic creatures. Generally, those days were ones where we passed through the broad waters of the Turner River, and passed the old historic Watson Place. But then we entered what naturalists call the Nightmare.

THE NIGHTMARE & BRUCE MAY: What a remarkable place. Red mangrove grew thick, and beneath their stilt-like roots white ibis probed the muck, searching for snails. In one place the tide went out, and to make forward progress, we had to get out and push our canoe. Several times we sunk up to our knees into centuries of leaf mold. Then, shortly thereafter, we pushed our way clear. That’s when the tide began to return, and that’s when began to see gators. And not just one, but gators every few feet.


That evening as we canoed through the Paleozoic setting searching for an elevated camping platform called a chickee (a wooden platform that places you high above the surrounding swamp) we could hear the sounds of the jungle. Once we heard what we thought was the roar of bull gator. It was after all March—mating season—and the timing was right. That night Bruce and I could talk about little but gators and how fortunate that we’d found our chickee and weren’t lost and drifting around amidst the no-seeums, and the alligators.

CAMPGROUND: Now, 20-some years later and I’m back with Janie, and finding it exhilarating to recall some of my memories, particularly as we cycle the loop around our campground.

Appropriately, we find two gators, though both are small. Cautiously, we move from the road to the edge of the pond for a closer look. Both are simply lying on the bank slightly concealed, and we agree these descendents of the dinosaurs are indeed a most remarkable creature. Quickly we depart, afraid they might loose their natural fear of people should we linger.

What’s more, night is beginning to settle in, and we don’t complain that our hard-sided Airstream Trailer is not far away.

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Stalking the Mangroves of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

posted: January 22nd, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: By my watch, the yellow-crowned night heron stood perfectly motionless for exactly 14 minutes, but then it suddenly performed a 45 degree left-face. Moments later, it began gyrating, snaking it head back and forth. Suddenly, the heron struck out, retrieving something small, perhaps a snail—something, at any rate that was much too tiny to see.

The bird was in a mangrove marsh, a vast area named after J. N. “Ding” Darling, one of the foremost conservationists of the 30s and 40s. Today, the refuge is called the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

I have become fascinated with the Yellow-crowned Night Heron found here, a bird that generally hunts at night. But often it searches for crustaceans during the day, and finds them here among all the mangroves. You can tell when it is hunting in earnest simply by studying the heron’s eye through the lens of your camera or binoculars. When it is relaxed, the eye almost appears glazed, but when it is truly hunting the eye assumes a look of intensity.

I stayed with this one for over an hour, watching as it moved through roots, raising one foot, and then with its foot poised several inches off the ground, watching as it froze, waiting for its meal. Sensing, apparently, a relaxation in its prey, the heron again stepped forward. Bracing itself, its head then begins to do all the work, inching forward.

And now the heron’s eye is focused to the extent it almost appears crazed. And this is when the head and neck start swaying back and forth, as though it is attempting to calm its prey through hypnotism.

Then it strikes, its long neck snapping forward—beak slamming into its prey.

ROSEATE SPOONBILL: Other birds also hunt the mangroves, and we spent time photographing the Roseate Spoonbill. With its spatula-shaped bill, the bird swings its head through the water, all the while opening and closing its mandibles. The mandibles are sensitized and grooved, and they clamp shut when they touch prey.

SNOWY EGRET Along the drive, just a little past the spoonbills, we also found several Snowy Egrets. During the breeding season, the plumage is resplendent, and because of its incredible beauty an entire industry grew up around the species.

During the early 1900s, manufacturers embellished women’s hats with the feathers of egrets, generally the Snowy. Though the industry was an unconscionable one, it flourished to such an extent that the species almost went the way of the passenger pigeon.

DING DARLING In part, because of the egret, Ding Darling worked his magic with his Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons and helped sway politicians to outlaw the killing of such birds. Though Darling was a hard-core Republican, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the man if he would serve as director of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, predecessor to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Darling’s accomplishments in the field of conservation were great, and in 1934, he initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program. In 1945 Darling helped establish the refuge that would one day bear his name.

Today, the refuge visitor center recalls the man with an elaborate interpretative replica of his desk and office in which he penned so many of his cartoons.

ALLIGATOR The refuge, of course, preserves more than just birds, and as we progressed along the drive we found an alligator, and although a small one, it intrigued not only a group on the park bus, but us as well. We listened as the driver/lecturer explained that the distance between the eyes and the tip of the gators snout was directly proportional to the length of the gator. For instance, if eye to snout is eight inches, the gator is eight feet. But the question that seems begging is how do you measure that snout to eyes distance?

WHITE PELICANS During our week at Sanibel, we drove through the refuge almost every day and, once, drove the road’s five mile length three times. No two drives were the same, for the refuge is a dynamic place with different species hunting at different times of the day and in different places. Our shortest drive took two hours, and that was the evening sunset drive, as I now knew the pelicans roosted on this small sand bar each evening and knew exactly what I was looking for. The longest drive took about four hours, and that was when we became so engrossed with the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

As should be obvious from our various postings (most recently one on Bosque), birding is one of our passions, and we feel competent to say that the Ding Darling Refuge provides an outlet for that passion. Certainly the refuge is one that enabled me to add considerably to my vast library of stock photos. With regret we leave today, heading to Big Cypress, where our friends Jack and Carla Rupert work as campground host and hostess.

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Dateline Sanibel Island: Trouble In Paradise

posted: January 21st, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Though the beaches of Florida (particularly those at Sanibel) are some of the world’s most beautiful, there is now trouble in paradise. Covering some of the white sparkling sands are thick, extensive bands of algae. Unfortunately, I’m familiar with its presence for somewhat the same thing is happening to the beautiful lake near which we live, Montana’s Flathead Lake.

The process in which algae blooms occur is called eutrophication and the phenomena occurs when excessive nutrients are suddenly injected into an ecosystem. In Montana, the source is effluent from the poor and sometimes unregulated construction of septic systems. And, of course, it is also the result of huge communities now engulfing this lake once so beautiful that it was almost without peer.

Apparently, much the same is happening here, and to test my theory I visited with a volunteer at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and shared my hypothesis.

He said much debate now surrounds the problem, and that the extensive growths of red algae now covering the beach could be the result of several things. Certainly, he said, all the fertilizers used to the north to produce sugarcane could now be entering the system and injecting excessive nutrients.

Hurricane Charley might also be a culprit, for its winds stirred up nutrients on the bottom of Lake Okeechobee. In turn, these nutrients were transported down the Caloosahatchee River, which were immediately intercepted by Sanibel Island, located just a few miles off shore and directly in the path.

Yet another possibility is that wastes from cattle along the Caloosahatchee are influencing these once-pristine waters.

The problem is complex, said the long-time volunteer, and perhaps it is some combination of all these various disruptions to our ecosystem that is now causing the red algae (not to be confused with red tide, which is caused by a microscopic organism).

Because of eutrophication, a number of the beaches are covered with red algae, and if you’re in the area, and want to see for yourself, take a quick drive to Tarpon Beach or West Gulf Beach. Then ask yourself what the effects may one day be on all the beautiful shells. Could the thick bands soon cover Sanibel’s beautiful shells? Could these bands make it more difficult for the various species of birds dependent on organisms within the shells to find sustenance?

As a passing visitor/outdoor photojournalist, I don’t have the answers, and can only form opinions on what others tell me—and on what I’ve experienced in places suffering similar conditions, with which I am familiar.

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Caution: Sanibel’s Sea Shells Can Engender Habit-Forming Behavior

posted: January 20th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If Linda Edinberg is not the officially recognized shell expert on Sanibel Island in Florida, she should be. That’s our conclusion after spending the morning on a number of beaches all of which this transplanted New Englander seemed to know like the back of her hand.

“There’s lots of reasons to be intrigued,” she says, “and certainly part of that intrigue is because each and every morning there’s a new crop of shells.”

Sanibel, of course, is internationally famous for the incredible variety of shells that take the form of mollusks and esoteric gastropods. But not only does Linda seem to know their names, she also seems to know a little something about each of them as well. Stooping, she picks up one shell, then another, rattling off names as if they were old friends.

“Well, look at this cute little lightning welk…and how about this horse conch.”

Moving on she picks up an exquisite conical shaped shell she calls a “true tulip,” which is the shell’s actual name.

Another step or two and somehow between strands of algae, she spies the tip of a striated shell she calls a “pear whelk.” Then she gently separates a “buttercup lucine” from the sand with her trowel, studies it, and shares her observation. “This guy has been cannibalized,” she says. Then she twists it toward us.

“Look at this compromised shell. Mollusks prey on one another, and the trick is to find one whose shell is still intact. They tend to burrow a hole right at the juncture of the bivalves, which renders the controlling muscles there useless. That, of course, allows the predatory mollusk to suck out the contents.”

Linda has been shelling now for almost 10 years, and she and her husband return to their home on Sanibel each winter in part because of the life style that includes lots of cycling, but more than anything, for the shelling. “I hope to enter the Shell Festival this March in the ‘self-collected category.’”

Linda, of course, is not the only one strolling Sanibel’s beaches this morning. Looking around, we see lots of folks walking around in what appear to be kayak rubber shoes, carrying red or yellow pails and a small garden trowel. It’s early, too. In fact, the sun has yet to break over the horizon and pierce the thick mist now muting Light-House Beach. Still, dozens wander the beach wearing relaxed but intent expressions.

“Shelling,” says one devotee, “is one of the few acceptable ways mature adults can act like maniacal kids.” And now I worry. Might my wife metamorphosis into one of the obsessive and compulsive people?

Sanibel owes its wealth of shells to its location. Just off the coast of Florida, there’s an extensive shelf extending from Alabama to the Florida Keys, and it functions as a shell factory. When the winds are right they push surface waters away from the island. The void is then filled by waters from the shelf welling up with its load of shells.

As Linda says, each morning there’s a new crop, and that’s what makes shelling so exciting—and aesthetically rewarding. She says that people use shells in a variety of ways that include borders around picture frames, inlays in tables, simple objects‘d art in their homes—and, perhaps most elaborately, as a “sailor’s Valentine” like the one shown here.

But other forms of life also depend on shells and for more than just aesthetics. Birds by the thousands line the beaches, poking shells, hoping to discover a tidbit between the valves that will help sustain them. As a result, there are rules governing what you should and should not collect, and Linda believes that most shellers abide by the rules. “Always look to see if there’s something inside before taking it from its home. The shell may be near dead, but that’s what feeds the gulls and other shore birds.”

As we walked along shore birds were everywhere, and we identified various types of gulls as well as the Sandwhich Tern (first) and the Royal Tern (second), shown here.

Then, just off shore, there are the brown pelicans diving repeatedly into the sea to scoop up a fish or two.

Linda says that from time to time she also sees dolphins, and then, as though by virtue of mental summation, one appears, now swerving into shore–driving fish into the shallows.

“Pay attention if you’re wading out there,” emphasizes Linda. “Dolphins and sharks have similar configurations, but you can tell the difference by watching the way they swim. Dolphins undulate as they swim while the fins of sharks remain above water.”

For several moments we watch the dolphin, and then it moves a little further down the beach, and we take an unconscious step in that direction, but abruptly stop as Linda picks up a tiny shell she identifies as a wentletrap.

“Here, now you only need about another thousand of shells like this and you have enough for a Sailor’s Valentine.”

The Sailor’s Valentine is an elaborate assemblage of shells and there are several on display at the Shell Museum located on the Sanible-Captiva Road. The museum provides a simple explanation of what is needed to make such a token of affection. Many on the island apparently do make them, but generally, rather than spending the years that could be required to collect an adequate number of shells, artists—or sailors—now buy them from such places as She Sells Sea Shells.

The Shell Museum is worth a visit and explains all the ways in which shells affect us and then ways Native Americans used them over the centuries. One shell, Dentalium pretiosum or “Precious Tusk Shell,” was used as money for almost 2,500 years. Also on display is a life-size model of two Calusa Indians. Here, the father is explaining to his son the use of shell tools.

Obviously, shells have filled many rolls over the centuries, and they’re beauty continues to attract. To enjoy, all you must do is make a trip to one of Sanibel’s several beaches. But be forewarned. Serious conchologists are wading the shores at the crack of dawn, hoping for that rare find specimen.

Though Linda didn’t say so, we suspect she was hoping to find something truly exotic, perhaps a left-handed Junonia, one coiling anti-clockwise. It’s known only from two specimens—and is a one in a million find. (You can see one at the Shell Museum.)

But search hard often enough, and who know what bounty the seas may offer on the beaches here at Sanibel, refreshed as they are each and every morning by the relentless lapping of ocean waves.

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By Their Beaks Shall Ye Know Them

posted: January 17th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Just prior to the turn of the century, Charles Darwin sailed on his good ship Beagle and into the Galapagos Islands. In part he landed there to further test his theory on the origin of the species and had learned much by studying the beaks of finches. He had found about a dozen different species of finches on these islands and the only feature that truly differentiated one from the other were the beaks. Some were short and squat, some thin and long, allowing each species to fit into the ecosystem in a different way.

Like Darwin’s finches, each bird shown here has unique capabilities mostly because of their beaks. In other words, though they had started from a common stock, with time they evolved and survived together because they all ate something different. In part, that feature, apparent in its beak, can help differentiate one bird from another.
That’s they way things are here at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Over 200 different species of birds winter here, and Janie and I were fortunate to see about 50 and photograph perhaps eight—on this our very first day in this remarkable refuge.

All of the photographs shown here were taken in a four-hour period, which says much about the profusion of bird life. Though I did eliminate a bit of the top from the original pelican photo, others remain uncropped. Most of the photographs were taken with a 600mm telephoto lens mounted on a Nikon D200. I changed the exposure of a few of the images on my computer, but only slightly. Essentially, they’re just as the camera recorded them. When the sun was shining on any bird that is mostly all-white, I underexposed slightly, so that they wouldn’t wash out.

White Ibis–the one with the down-curved bill. Essentially, it feeds on snails and other shell-like creatures and ye shall know them by their down-curved beaks.

White pelicans, a species that breeds on the prairie islands of Montana and North Dakota. Here, they’re swimming in a group, “herding” fish into a confined area so that they can insert their huge beaks into the water and then quickly swish their huge beaks upward. Brown pelicans use their beaks differently, in that they dive from overhead and then grab their prey.

Anhingas are dark colored and are one of the few birds that can actually swim under water, spearing their prey with their long, dagger-like beaks. When satiated, they climb out onto a rock and allow the sun to dry off their wings. They are one of the few birds that don’t have an oil gland. Though you might think it’s a cormorant, anhingas have straight beaks and not down-curved tip at the end of its upper mandible.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron: At first I thought this was a Black-crowned Night Heron until a volunteer working here at Ding Darling correctly identified it for me as an immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Key characteristics are the much thicker beak and smaller light spots on the back. By and large, it feeds on crayfish.

Snowy Egret: Often called the bird with the “golden slippers,” the Snowy Egret can only be confused with the Great Egret, but you can differentiate between the two by the color of their beaks. The snowy has a black beak and yellow feet, while the Great Egret has the reverse.

Great Egret: Of course birds also use their beaks to preen, or fix holes in their wings. Years ago in an ornithology course, I looked at the feathers under a low-powered microscope and could actually see small hook-like structures called barbicels. Preening fixes holes by reuniting the barbicels located on each tiny feather.

Judging by the number of people on the birding trail today, I conclude that we’re fortunate indeed to have a National Wildlife Refuge system. Ding Darling is but one of the 640 refuges in the system, and over the next few days, you’ll see that this 6,000-acre refuge provides more than just material for stories on beaks.

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Personalities At Bay Bayou RV Resort

posted: January 15th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Mayra Volk’s parents fled Cuba when she was nine years old, and she is just one of the many people whose stories here in this small RV community are of interest. We met Mayra about Christmas time, and met her initially because she was selling jewelry, which she had created herself.

Soon we’ll be leaving Bay Bayou RV Resort, located in Florida along the Double Branch Creek, and her story along with those of many others here in this park are just a few that we’ll take with us. In a way, the vignettes represent a slice of life from most any small community.

Mayra’s parents fled Cuba when she was young, and the family’s story as emigrants is particularly intriguing. Because her family had no males between 15 and 27 years of age, they qualified to leave. But it took time. But after waiting four years for permission, the family left Cuba in 1965. When they left, they had but a three-day notice.

“A man in full military uniform knocked on our door and told us we had three days to get ready, and that we could take nothing but the clothes on our backs. They told Mom and Dad they had to leave everything behind, including all jewelry. But my mother sewed jewelry into the hem of her dress and I took a doll. We flew from Cuba to America, and during the flight she was so afraid she’d be caught.”

Before leaving, the American government provided Mayra’s parents with a choice of four different American cities to which they could move. Florida wasn’t one of them, but she remembers that New York and Louisiana were.

“My dad didn’t want to go to New York because it was too cold.”

Instead her parents selected a small town south of New Orleans, and that’s where Mayra began school. Chronologically, Mayra should have been in third grade but because she spoke only Spanish she was placed in kindergarten. The next year, however, she was moved up to a grade that was one year behind her age group. Though Mayra speaks excellent English today, she remembers that the school kids often teased her about the way she spoke.

Mayra said that her parents wanted to leave Cuba because they could see the writing on the wall.

“They wanted a better life for us,” recalls Mayra, “and in Cuba we didn’t always have it. When we were young, we were forced to watch an execution. The man was being executed because he’d spoken out against the government. To make an impression, we children had to watch along with our parents. I was probably eight years old, and remember that they shot the man in the head.”

Mayra also recalls that she and her parents had experienced the Bay of Pigs, and Mayra remembers that her parents dug a square hole about eight-feet deep. Then they used panels of tin for cover.

“What good that would have done against a nuclear attack?”

After arriving in America, Mayra’s parents taught one another to drive a car. They bought an old Mercury Comet and then practiced on a dead-end street.

Today, Mayra and her husband, Jim, make Bay Bayou Resort their home. They’ve been married 22 years, but Mayra didn’t’ obtain American citizenship until 2001.

“The examination contains 150 questions,” says Mayra, “and I was mortified.”

“How many American citizens,” asks Jim, “can name all 13 original colonies?”

Mayra passed, and for awhile they traveled fulltime in their motorhome. But Mayra says their hard-core traveling is behind them—for a while. Right now they want to help their daughter and be with their 3-year-old grandson, Aidan, whom they “adore” and take care of four days a week.

Two other people that have been part of our lives are Nancy Zatkoff and Kathy Wood, both of whom deserve much credit in their own right. Somewhat unexpectantly, both found themselves single. At midlife Kathy returned to college and completed her degree in accounting. She’s now a fixture at the front office helping with some of the book keeping. For several days, Janie was under the weather while we’ve been here, and we’ll remember her concern—and the flowers she brought and the many other kindnesses she exhibited.

Nancy, with whom we have kayaked, remains an independent traveler, and has no qualms what-so-ever about hitching up her travel trailer and heading down the road. Her travels have taken her all over the United States to places as diverse as Acadia in Maine and Quartzite in Arizona.

Once married to a federal judge, she taught school for awhile, but rather than return to the classroom at this stage of her life she found a satisfying position with Hospice. The job provides some time off and she’ll use it for summer traveling. She says she could teach a course in RVing, and we suspect she’s right. Over the years, this 5’1” lady has pulled 5th wheelers but now pulls a simple tow-behind trailer.

Bob Feely is another of our close friends, we’ll miss him too. Bob worked with Ford Motor Company for 40 years, and today he drives a motorhome and lives at Bay Bayou about four months each year. Last summer he was in an accident that almost killed him though you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. Athletic and well spoken, when employed by Ford, he performed the highly specialized job of keeping the machinery in proper working order, something that is about to be taken over by computers.

There are others we’ve met, too, whom we call friends, and they include a retired army sergeant who made over 800 jumps as a paratrooper and sky diver. His stories have kept us intrigued and we won’t soon forget him.

We’ve enjoyed brief conversations with Ernie, a man who worked as a photographer for the Stars and Stripes in Europe. The job took him throughout many countries that had military bases. I consider that a dream job.

We’ll miss Earl, the security guard. Though we haven’t gotten a chance to really know him, he once cowboyed in Montana, our home state, and I’d like to learn more about that.

We call Rose and Gordy friends, and we’ve described this couple previously in an entire blog entry.

Jo and Ken hail from Tennessee—are quintessentially Southern—and speak with a delightful accent typical of the Deep South. Ken loves football, and you know which team he was rooting for last week when Tennessee played Penn state.

We’re quite sure we’ll return one day to Bay Bayou, and when we do, certainly it will be because of the wonderful accommodations, but as well, it will be because of the delightful people we’ve met, and with whom we hope to maintain contact. Two months is not nearly enough time to delve into people’s lives and learn about the fascinating life histories that so many have acquired.

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Fishing Techniques From Fishing Fools

posted: January 13th, 2007 | by:Bert

Those of you who rely on the Woodall’s Campground Directory may note that the 2007 directory contains a major story about fishing techniques. The story is incorrectly attributed to “Bill” Gildart rather than to me, Bert Gildart, as it should have been.

Editors tell me the mistake is a computer error, and because they’ve known me correctly for so many years, I’ll have let it go at that, knowing, in fact, that such mistakes do occur.

Regardless of the error the remainder of the article is correct, and knowing that there are many fisherpersons out there, I enclose a portion of the story here, suggesting that when you get your campground directory that you turn to page 80—for the rest of the story.

As well, you’ll see some of the fish I’ve been fortunate enough to land, particularly out of Alaska. Again, I’ve enclosed several here that might make you want to start checking lures and tying flies. Setting for the first photo is 400 miles up the Porcupine River in the Yukon Territory, which Janie and I reached in our Johnboat. That’s Duane James on the left and yours truly on the right. The boat is powered by a 50hp Yamaha, four stroke, and the people who make them are mighty good folks.

Ya hear!

(Note: All photos made on the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers during four-month trip in our Johnboat.) 

©Bert Gildart: My friend Bill Schneider is a fishing fool, a competition angler who likes to laud his knowledge over on friends and acquaintances. Typically, when on a trip, he begins by pulling out the latest Brown boots with Berkley hip waders uniting it all with an equally high-tech pair of Tilley Gators. Enviously, I look on, and that’s when he’ll rub it in.“What?” he’ll say, with a not-so-well-concealed look of smugness as he snugs his gators. “You don’t have a pair of these?”

Same with actual fishing paraphernalia. As he pulls out a bag containing patiently labeled clear plastic boxes of flies overflowing with a host of nymphs, streamers, terrestrial flies and other such esoteric angling accoutrements, he’ll ask—in response to my raised eyebrows—“What? You don’t have a Double Bunny? I thought everyone fished with one of those.”

But the infuriating fact is that the boxes are more than just a collection of items that might make you a better fisherman. Schneider, once the editor of the state’s hunting and fishing magazine, “Montana Outdoors,” knows how to use this stuff, something each and every one of us would like to know.And so you endure, and you ask if you could borrow one, and then (humbly), “Come on Bill; show me how to use it. Please.”

That’s the way I’ve picked up a lot of information. In fact, for years I’ve been humbling myself across the nation, picking up bits and pieces from fishing fools (they’re all a bit supercilious), trying my best to become a good all-around fisherman. In my pursuits, I’ve learned a bit about bass, trout, walleye, sturgeon and even pike—angling. In fact, I’ve picked up a few of the accoutrements, and would like to highlight what I’ve learned and detail just how to use this information, drawing at times on memories I’ve had with some of these dedicated fishermen…

Perhaps at this juncture, I should mention that you can catch many species of fish using very simple techniques, and pike are one of those species. Several years ago in Alaska, my wife and I spent the summer living out of a wall tent, traveling from hole to hole in our johnboat. In one case, we were cruising the waters for pike and had made a 70-mile trip from Circle down the Yukon to Fort Yukon where this sprawling river also accepts the Porcupine. Over the course of a week, we then proceeded 400 miles up the Porcupine River. It was hard, hard work, but you know the cliché; “Someone has to do it.”

Along the way we renewed acquaintances with a native friend, Duane James—and most assuredly, he is a fishing fool! His fishing gear, however, was—and still is—about as simple as you might get, and the incident serves to prove that you can get by very, very cheaply.

Duane was standing next to me and there I was, dapper in my Helly Hanson Hip Waders crowned with my Tilly Hat—and I was creating beautiful arcs with my line streaming out from an Orivs Rod.

My offering was a specially tied dragon fly nymph, and as I remember, both Duane and I were doing well. But confound it all, Duane was doing better, pulling out fish with almost every cast.

His gear?

Duane was using 20-pound line wrapped around a pop can. About the only thing we had in common were our lures—and the fact that we had both attached wire line to the end of our monofilament. If we wanted pike, we had to do that! After all, pike have sharp teeth, and they know how to use them for chomping through tough line, something fishermen should always remember when removing hooks. More than one person has required stitches following the slash of teeth from one of these tigers of the marsh.

Because pike and bass are both predators, you can catch them using similar techniques. Pike spawn in the spring and generally do so in shallow waters. The trick is to affix a weedless lure to your line and then generate the proper type of action. Both smallmouth bass and pike feed on frogs, and so a weedless lure (such as the popper shown in one of my photographs) that can navigate marshy environments works well. Try popping it along the surface and if they’re there, and if they’re hungry, it will send such species into a frenzy.

That’s a fly fishing technique, but you can also use a spinning rod and often do so more effectively than you can using a fly rod. But then, of course, you are no longer a purist. If that’s OK, and this time, you want to try for bass, begin by loading up your spinning rods with a rapallas or some crank bait, such as the Bomber 6A Red Crawfish or the Luhr Jensen Baby Hotlips (Don’t you just love these names!). You can also load them up with one of a thousand other lures, for the number of lures that have been created for bass fishermen is endless—and if the choices are overwhelming, you can easily simplify.

What I’m saying is, of course, heresy, but you don’t have to have a Loomis Rod, Shamino Reel, or even a Berkley high-tech line. In fact, if you really want, you can get by using a red and white Daredevil (which I’ve found works most everywhere), or one of the many variations of Mepps Spinners. To simplify even more, you can fish like my Native friend Duane fishes. You can use a pop can.

In fact, the next time I’m with Bill Schneider I may do exactly that. And because I can guarantee his boxes of accoutrements won’t contain Duane’s setup, at the propitious moment, I’m going to pull out a carefully assembled line attached to pop can and then pose the question:

“What, Bill? You don’t have a Pepsi, swivel and an old Mepps spinner? You don’t have a set up like this?

Predictably, Bill will shake his head, and that will be my clue.

“Well, honestly, Bill, you really must get one of these.”

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Tampa Florida—More Naturally

posted: January 10th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Because our time is growing short here at Bay Bayou, we have put local travel into overdrive, and have made several grand discoveries–essentially for photography.

Within a short drive of Bay Bayou there are a number of parks that are managed either as county or as state parks.

One of those parks requires 20-minute drive, the other about a five-minute drive. The highlight of both parks are their natural history features and one of those is yet further protected because you can reach it only by boat.

With regard to Caladesi Island State Park you can reach it by private sail boat, by a charter—or you can do as we did and use kayaks, which Nancy Zatkoff, Bob Feely, Janie and I all swear by.

At times, kayaking here can be a challenge, and several days ago when we launched our kayaks for Caladesi, the wind was blowing hard. However, on the way back, we had the wind to our backs, and time spent paddling was literally cut in half.

Caladesi is well known for its nesting population of sea turtles and for its shore birds, and when we were there we saw turtles (not sea turtles) and we saw an abundance of shore birds. Most notably, we saw the black skimmer, a bird whose lower mandible is longer than its upper mandible, something unique in the world of birds.

Skimmers use their unique design to literally “skim” along the surface of the water and scoop up various species of fish.

A series of trails thread throughout Caladedsi, passing along stands of mangroves and eventually taking you to a dock adjacent to the park’s visitor center and a landing spot for kayaks and for charter boats.

The other park is a county park and is located almost within our back yard. In fact, we could launch a kayak in Double Branch Creek, located about 50 yards from our trailer, and then follow the creek for about a mile and very quickly be at Upper Tampa Bay Park.

Today, however, we made the short drive to the park, and walked several of its trails. Beneath a tree draped with tendrils of moss, we saw an armadillo, which quickly vanished beneath dense stands of mangroves.

As well, we saw several squirrels that begged to be photographed.

Then, we poked our head into the museum, which provides thorough interpretations of the local geology, as well as the flora and the fauna.

Several aquariums contained bees while another contained live snakes.

For someone looking for a glimpse into lands that can claim to be Florida naturally, either of the two parks serve well. Combine that with all the other county and state parks in the area, and you can immerse yourself into most any style of life you might like.

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Hey, It’s a Gator. Could It Be “Tiny?”

posted: January 7th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: On five separate occasions I’ve cycled the Upper Tampa Trail hoping to see alligators, but not until this past Friday while on an afternoon outing with Jo, Ken, Jim and Bob did I see one.

From the start of the trail to the end is about 10 miles, but about three miles along—just past “Channel A”—you come to several large ponds. The pond is a natural attractant and, apparently, has the feed necessary to sustain a small population of gators.

According to Bob, who has been a repeat winter resident at Bay Bayou RV Resort—and a frequent user of the Upper Tampa Trail—you often see these reptilian anachronisms from the Tampa Trail, though generally not on overcast days. Today, however, was an exception, for as we coasted from the woodlands and into a clearing that contained a small pond, there, about 50 yards away on the far bank, was our reptile, and it was huge.

Seeing the gator made our day for we had all searched hard. Stopping at several of the bridges over small creeks and ponds we had peered through the leaves of palms and palmettos and though we saw lots of anhingas and ibises in this Paleozoic setting, we’d seen no reptiles—until we came to the large ponds. But there one was, and we studied it intently. Bob Feely had a telephoto lens with him, and was able to make the excellent photo included here.

Of course, there is only so much fascination in watching a perfectly motionless creature for 20 to 30 minutes, so eventually we biked on, where we had lunch at a small trailside inn—and then headed back. Naturally, we stopped to see if our gator was still there. It was, and from our vantage, it appeared as though it had not moved a single muscle.

This time, we began asking all the logical questions, which largely went unanswered until Kevin Anderson, park ranger for Hillsborough County, rode down the trail and helped fill in the gaps. (Park rangers, incidentally, are the only ones allowed to use four-wheelers on this trail, but the help they provide stranded cyclist and their deterrent against crime more than justifies their use.)

Average alligator growth is about one foot per year during its first six years of life, but then growth tapers off. We guessed this gator to be about 12 feet, meaning it was probably about nine to ten years old.

Because of the reptile’s huge size, Kevin said they called it “Tiny,” and at a guesstimated 300 pounds, it was certainly an excellent specimen, though not yet a record. Record gators might reach 20 feet and weigh close to 1,000 pound.

Throughout life, gators have a great appetite and are capable of eating a variety of animal forms, and do so by using their strong jaws and the 80 sharp teeth in those jaws to capture, crush and dismember a small deer, fish, or dog. However, alligators cannot chew, so they swallow their food whole or in chunks and then simply bask in the sun on some warm bank waiting for the food to putrify at which time it can be more easily swallowed.

Is that what Tiny was doing? Hmmmm.

According to Kevin not everyone is delighted to see gators. “Don’t know why, unless it’s fear.”But Kevin believes the fear is unfounded if people conduct themselves appropriately. “Problems arise,” emphasized the ranger, “when people feed these reptiles. Then the animal looses its natural fear and becomes aggressive, associating people with food.”

Of course there are other reasons people and gators clash, essentially because of the incredible influx of people into the state and the desire, of course, of people to build waterfront homes. Today, because people build those homes in gator country, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission receives more than 18,000 alligator-related complaints annually.

Apparently, none in our group would be complaining about our day’s gator sighting. In fact, if anything, we’d all be cycling the Upper Tampa Trail again real soon, hoping once again to see “Tiny.”

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Trailer Trash: Gordy Milner, Because He’s More Than A Chameleon

posted: January 3rd, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Here in Tampa, Florida, at Bay Bayou, most people know “Gordy” as the man who produces all that great Country and Western sound with his 42-year-old Gibson guitar. Listen to him croon a Merle Haggard or Toby Keith tune—or one of his own creations—and you’d think the man was a fulltime professional musician; and while it’s true he once auditioned successfully for a prominent band in Memphis, Tennessee, music, as it turns out, eventually came to be the man’s pastime.

“Too much of a hardship on the family,” said Gordy. “And the lifestyle would have kept me way too far away from Rosie.”

So, instead, back in 1964, Gordon Douglas Milner chose the life of a cop, and at age 63 that’s still his work, just not fulltime anymore. Instead he has achieved a balance in which he lives five months a year at Bay Bayou RV Resort, Florida, contributing his time as a musician, and seven months a year in Dewitt, Michigan. Here, he works as a gainfully employed motorcycle cop where he still, on occasion (more about that in a moment), has to chase down (literally) crooks.

For Gordy and his wife, Rosie, the work combination is about as perfect as you can get. In fact, in part because of his unique talents, I’m inaugurating “Trailer Trash,” a column I hope to post periodically, and perhaps elevate to another status as time goes by. Essentially I’m starting with Gordy, but wish I’d begun earlier, for there are many people we’ve met who deserve such critical acclaim.

Consider, for example, Braxton Craft, a man who stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and lost one of his legs. After a long struggle with both personal and physical issues, he became Director of Prosthetics for the Veterans Administration. As well, he continues to canoe—and we’ve discussed doing together the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which would include a portage.

We met Braxton last summer in Fort Peck, Montana, at an Army Corps of Engineer Campground. He travels much of the year in his motorhome, and because he travels with such casual abandon, he’s got to be Trailer Trash. Much the same for “Ole Man,” whom we met climbing Mount Katahdin this summer while gathering story material for Trailer Life Magazine.

But so, too, are many of the people who attended or participated in Bay Bayou’s New Year’s Eve bash—for they are a most free-spirited group, and before returning to Gordy, I’ll describe them briefly.

Though I don’t know for sure, I suspect that Dennis Muldin fits the description, else how could he have performed all that Karoake on New Years Eve with such feeling. And what about Kathy Wood, another of these people who is at home in so many areas. I hope, at any rate, that they fit my criteria because after another evening spent with Bob Feely, Nancy Zatkoff and Kathy for New Years Eve dinner, my wife, Janie, and I sure thought we were with family.

Trailer Trash!

But now, let’s take a closer look at Gordy. Physically, he stands 6’1” and weighs 185, and you suspect it’s all muscle—confirmed when you learn that just last year he ran down a robber and subdued him. But not without a tussle.

“The man stabbed me in the hand with a screw driver—but then he went down hard.”

Gordy is a former Navy man who served most of his four-year hitch in the ‘60s at sea. During this time, he was occasionally assigned shore duty, and it’s then he began to suspect that the life of a policeman might be right for him. Upon discharge, he applied to the Des Moines, Iowa Police Academy, was accepted and upon completion of schooling began work as a street cop.

“While there, I had to make a difficult decision—one of the most difficult in my career,” said Gordy with a chuckle. “Trying to stand along a corner was a man stoned out of his mind. He had soiled himself so badly that he was covered with [excrement]. He stunk, and because I didn’t want him in the police car, I told him to walk. We were only a few blocks from the station, and I followed him, parked the car and then walked him in.”

Several years later, Gordy transferred to Lansing, Michigan, and gathered the kind of experience from which they make movies (Think 1973 and Al Pacino in Serpico!). “Back then, I worked as an undercover agent, dressing for the role. Sometimes my hair was long and sometimes I wore a beard. Sometimes, we’d try and bust the prostitutes by acting as a ‘John.’ If a woman accepted my proposal and a price were named, that’s when we busted her.”

By now, Gordy had amassed an impressive resume and believed he had enough of a background to apply to General Motors as a Security Officer. He was accepted, and, here, Gordy said, is where he had some of his most satisfying experiences. As a Security Officer (again, often undercover) he worked with local drug authorities and frequently busted drug dealers attempting to pedal their substances to GM employees. Often he served as a personal bodyguard for the company’s president, but particularly satisfying was work during GM Buick Classic Golf Tournaments, when he served as a bodyguard for Tiger Woods.

“I did that on six separate occasions over a four-year period, and believe Mr. Woods would recognize me today by name out on the street.”

Gordy retired from General Motors in 2000, but soon found he was at loose ends, and approached Larry Jerul, Chief of Police in Dewitt, Michigan with a question:

“If I returned to the Police Academy would you hire me?”


“And that,” said Gordy, “is how I got my dream job.”

In the summer, you’ll now find Gordy patrolling the county’s lake and rivers in a boat and the city of DeWitt on motorcycle. Though he didn’t reveal a preference, a picture of him in full police uniform suggests patrol work may be his choice. Sitting on top of a Harley Davidson Road King Police Special he is attired in a police uniform set off by helmet—and boots so shiny you suspect you can see your reflection. On his waist and attached to a belt are a pair of handcuffs, a taser, a .45 glock, two more 13-capacity clips of bullets, a radio—and a can of mace, which he recently had to use.

“Three of us were attempting to subdue a burly construction worker, and when he got violent, simultaneously we reached for our cans of spray and let him have it. Guess who got the chore of driving him to jail. Boy, did my eyes burn from the residual.”

In a small town Gordy knows he’s in the limelight, and takes great pride in helping redirect some of the young people from trouble. “Sometimes parents ask me to lend a hand, specifically requesting that I read their kid the riot act. If I think it might help, I do what I can.”

Obviously, Gordon Douglas Milner has had to wear many hats during his long career, and he likens his adaptability to that of a chameleon—particularly now as he bounces between law enforcement in Michigan and music in Florida. But I say that any man who can speak the King’s English one moment and then the next speak “Sailoreze,” drawing from an inexhaustible library of delightful and intriguing adjectives—must have seen an immense amount of life and is, therefore, more than just a chameleon.

Gordy, in fact, is Trailer Trash!

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